NATO confirms 'mistakenly' bombing civilians in convoy
April 15, 1999
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- A NATO plane "mistakenly" bombed a civilian vehicle in a convoy in southwestern Kosovo, NATO said Thursday, confirming Serb reports.
"NATO confirms from its preliminary investigation that it appears one of its aircraft mistakenly dropped a bomb on a civilian vehicle yesterday," the alliance said in a written statement.
The alliance said that Serb military or police vehicles "may have been in or around the convoy" at the time of the attack.
Yugoslav officials said Wednesday NATO planes fired on two columns of ethnic Albanians in two separate attacks. Serb authorities have reported that between 64 and 85 died in the attacks and that 25 were injured.
NATO said it could not confirm any casualties.
Late Wednesday, ethnic Albanian refugees from a bombed convoy crossed the border into Kukes, Albania, and gave first-hand accounts. One witness said that the civilian convoy passed a Serb military caravan on the road between Djakovica and Prizren just before the attack.
"NATO regrets any harm to innocent civilians, and reminds that the circumstances in which this accident occurred are wholly the responsibility of (Yugoslav) President (Slobodan) Milosevic and his policies." NATO's statement said.
NATO's statement echoed that of British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who earlier accused Milosevic and the Yugoslav government of crying "crocodile tears" over a conflict they started.
"I have to say that I will not accept the criticism that has been emanating from Belgrade from the very people who organize the mass ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, who have caused thousands of civilian deaths in Kosovo, and who have displaced from their homes hundreds of thousands of people in Kosovo," Cook said. "How dare they produce crocodile tears for people killed in the conflict for which they themselves are responsible."
Cook said it is important to keep in mind why the civilians were in the convoy in the first place. "I would like to ask President Milosevic about the refugees in that convoy. Would he like to remind us why they were refugees in the first place, what was it they were fleeing from, where were they being taken?" asked Cook.
On the diplomatic front, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed Thursday that the United Nations should play a role in "legitimizing" a military presence in Kosovo and endorsed Russia's call for a peace deal.
Annan's comments came as Germany issued a new proposal calling for a pause in the bombing if Yugoslavia agreed to NATION conditions -- including an international peacekeeping force.
NATO called the German plan a "food-for-thought paper," but did not immediately endorse it.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, president of the European Union, said the EU ministers would push for a U.N. Security Council resolution incorporating the German proposal.
Annan called for all sides to work with Russia toward a solution. Russia strongly opposes the NATO airstrikes, which began March 24 when Yugoslavia refused to halt its crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
"If the international community is going to make progress on this issue, I think it's essential we all come together, and work with the Russians who are playing a very constructive role, and I'm in touch with them," Annan said.
NATO requirements for a cease-fire include withdrawal of Yugoslav troops from Kosovo and the safe return of several hundred thousand refugees forced to flee the fighting.
Correspondents Richard Roth and Catherine Bond contributed to this report.
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